Thursday, March 28, 2013

EXclusion: GenEd Vs. SpEd

Many of my close friends know that a few weeks ago I had a terrible slap in the face when it comes to the inclusion of my darling girl.  In her IEP it looks great.  She has had inclusion time in a general education pre-k (something we really had to sort of fight for because in Texas she is not pre-k eligible....well technically she is for PPCD because she has a disability....but not for low income or foster kids, or military kids...but that's another story). Anyway, I quickly found out that maybe some of the people involved in her education do not share the passion and love for inclusion that we as a family feel.

Long story short, the Pre-K kids that Kendall spends a large part of her school day with were taking a class picture.  The teacher and aid of that class asked if they could take one picture with Kendall and one without Kendall.  Mind you, there were other PPCD kids in the picture that were not asked to leave (not in wheelchairs)  Of course when I got wind of this I exploded with every emotion possible.  I followed that with e-mails and phone calls to people in administration.  I had quick replies....but not a lot of follow through.  Their solution?  A book study on "Out of my mind"  a great FICTIONAL story on an inclusion fail.  I think the book's great...don't get me wrong.  It gives great insight that a child with cerebral palsy or dystonia can still have normal or exceptional cognition.  But it is a children's book.  I guess I was hoping for a more research-based training.  Then I realized maybe they don't know how to do that. 

In favor of giving both sides of the story... the general ed pre-k teacher called me a few days after the event happened.  She stated that she did not ask for Kendall to be out of the picture, simply that she wanted her wheelchair out of the picture.  Whatever.  Like that's any better.  And besides, there were way too many people that heard her to back track.  She even tried to blame her aide.  Again, whatever. 

To further the heart wrenching event, the rest of the girls in the pre-k class did end up taking a picture together without Kendall.  Shame on them.  Shame on the moms in the room when it happened.  Shame on the person who took the picture (the pre-k teacher)  Shame on them all.  But are they really to blame? 

I also found out that a few weeks before, they did a Pre-K circus.  Kendall wasn't invited to be in it.  Other PPCD kids were.  Kendall was not.  Again they excluded her. 

We had Kendall's ARD to determine our plan for next year.  During the ARD the pre-k teacher wasn't going to comment when we discussed Kendall's present level of academic functional performance.  I leaned over and asked to hear from her.  She said...and I quote "Kendall loves being in my room.  She has fun while she's there.  I love her smile."  Ok.  Great.  My kid has a nice smile and likes being around other kids.  That's ALL you have to say about her time in your classroom?  Oh, wait.  I forgot.  She's not really your student.  She's a visitor in your room.  And this ARD is to discuss the placement of a student in a general education classroom.  We could have used a little more.  (and by the way, she wasn't even going to come to the ARD.)

Now, the district can get upset about this and what it does to their reputation, etc.  But what are they going to do about it?  Who's job is it to train general education teachers?  Is it the Special Education Teacher's responsibility?  Support staff?  Because those are their peers.  It really holds more of a punch when it comes from administration.  Plain and simple.  Not to mention some special education teachers really don't buy in to inclusion either.  They almost "like" the idea of being the "special" teachers.  Some of them even go so far as to tell parents that it's best for their children to be in a self contained classroom with other kids with disabilities...that they should start there because their kid may get ignored in a general education classroom.  This infuriates me to no end.  EVERY CHILD SHOULD START IN A LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT FIRST!  If you need to make changes later, so be it.  I personally believe in raising expectations (especially for kids who are multiply involved) and supporting them with accommodations and modifications.  It's 2013 for God's sake.

I can go on and on about how hurt this made me.  It's the big picture that really hurts my heart.  My darling little girl had to hear adults talk about her like she wasn't good enough to be in a damn picture.  I'm not sure I'll ever get over that. 

But we are moving forward.  Kendall will be in her Gen Ed Kindergarten class next year with her neighborhood kids.  She'll receive resource support during "intervention time"  which is suppose to be during individual work time.  She'll have a full time nurse that will assist her and her personal care needs.  She'll have resource teachers taking her for one on one instruction 30 minutes during math and 30  minutes during reading.  She'll be with her peers every other minute of the day. It's official.

Licking my wounds and marching on. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Least Restrictive Environment...

A least restrictive environment requires that each local education agency ensures to the maximum extent appropriate that children with disabilities are educated with children who are not disabled. The Texas Education Agency states that “special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”

Kendall’s turning five next month. I can’t believe it. Time flies…and keeps on flying. My thoughts on the above topic have evolved greatly in these last four years. I was a general education teacher for five years right out of college. I never in my life had a “special education” college course or class. In my first few years teaching at a Title One school, my eyes were opened quite a bit. I never had an entire room of children on grade level. In my teaching career, I always had to individualize my lesson plans for my kids. I was taught that was best practice. I never passed out worksheets and gave the same spelling list to my class. I just didn’t. I couldn’t.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t understand what the push back is! I never really had any multiply handicapped children in my third grade classroom. I had kids with emotional disabilities, kids with learning disabilities, kids with “dyslexia.” I would like to believe that if I did have a child with multiple disabilities, I would have embraced the challenges to find a learning style and form of evaluation that worked for that child. My job was to educate children. All children. I expect the same from teachers for my own kids now.

I do understand that teachers are overwhelmed. Often times, they don’t have the support they need to complete all of their tasks. They spend too much time getting kids to pass a test….blah, blah, blah. But the bottom line is: they are teachers. They get paid to be teachers, and if they don’t like the job or the work involved, they need to retire or find a new career path! Period.

So for me, it’s really a no brainer. Kendall is turning five. The law says she can go to her home school and be educated with her nondisabled peers. So, that’s exactly what is going to happen. I have a meeting scheduled before her ARD at the end of the month. If her present levels of performance lead us to goals that are academic (and by that I mean, in line with the TEKS “Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills” for kindergarteners) there shouldn’t be any problem. Making sure she has goals that don’t set her up for failure is my priority.

I plan to be pretty specific in her IEP on a variety of things, and I am hopeful our ARD committee will see things my way.

But we all know that the best laid plans don’t always go the way you expect. There are a lot of things that factor into the success of Kendall’s inclusion. She has to have administrators and teachers in her new school that share our vision for Kendall. I’m not worried about the other kids. Kids embrace Kendall. That’s obvious pretty much everywhere we go. Usually, it’s the adults that hold them back.

I won’t stand for Kendall being left out, discriminated against, coddled, or blending into the background. I expect her to be treated like every other five year old at school! And as of this moment, my gut tells me this is doable. We’ve come a long way so far, and I just know she will progress leaps and bounds side by side her non-disabled peers! (with in class supplementary aids and services of course).